by riesling

Summary: It's her first Iron Fist Tournament and Asuka is finally starting to live the life she's always wanted. She's doing well to balance her life in and out of the tournament. Everything seems perfect until she realizes that her new friendship threatens the relationship she holds with her cousin. Will life be the same? Or will it all come crashing down?

Somewhere from across the waves a gull was calling. It was a soft cry at first, barely audible over the sounds of the bustling wharves of the city. But it went on, over and over again until it too was swallowed by the monotony.

All around her, people strolled by the seaside cafes and milled about in the many shops and boutiques. It was her hometown; these were all places that she had been before.

On that day she found herself waiting; for what she couldn't quite be sure. She was leaning against the rocky cliff, just short of where the ocean met the beach. This was her favorite place to come and think: high tide would cover it all, make it almost impossible to make it here, to this small ledge with the city above her and the sea down below her.

It was the last day that she would come to this place. It brought on too many of the memories that she'd always wished to hold in. Her mother, she had been told, loved to come to the sea; loved everything about the outdoors, really, but loved the sea most of all.

Asuka had been told many stories about her mother. She was a beautiful woman, Sayuri Kazama, beautiful just like her twin sister, Jun Kazama. People told Asuka all of the time how much she resembled them both.

But Sayuri was a woman Asuka had never known. After her birth, she had been in an accident and Asuka had been raised in Osaka by only her father. She'd lead a happy childhood, really.

Until the day of her father's murder. Asuka spent the night on the beach near the sea; the only place where she ever felt real comfort.

So, perhaps, that same feeling of comfort was what she hoped to find by being here today. Or maybe it was for other reasons that she had come.

The King of Iron Fist Tournament was coming up soon and she knew that she should have spent her last day in Osaka training. But training didn't seem like the right thing to do at the moment.

For as long as Asuka could remember she'd been training in the Kazama style of Martial Arts. There seemed nothing new to learn; no more techniques to be mastered. She was ready for this tournament; she was ready to avenge her father.

'Why did I come here in the first place?' she thought to herself, looking out from the seaside deck attached to the back of her grandfather's large mansion. She'd left Osaka not more than three hours earlier and already she missed it. Everything about her grandfather's home here in Tokyo seemed so foreign and uninviting.

She felt out of place; that was the most of the discomfort she felt. Asuka was like a bright light that lit up the dark hallways. Everything here was so dark. Even the sky seemed cloudy sometimes at the brightest times.

It was strange that she should end up here, at the ocean of all places. But the thought brought her comfort. She really did love everything about it, the picturesque beauty that only the white sand beaches could offer.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" a voice asked from behind her.

Startled, Asuka turned around, bowing to the figure in front of her. She hadn't looked into his face, but she could tell that it was a man. His shoes, his pants, his voice, everything told her so.

When her eyes finally rose to meet his, she gasped. "Jin Kazama?"

"Asuka," his voice trailed off.

He met her startled gaze with a blank expression. It was hard for her to read. But he made the next move, pulling her into his arms in a tight embrace.

"My cousin," he whispered.

"It's been too long since I've seen you," there were tears in her eyes.

She'd waited so long to see him. Ever since she had been told that her aunt Jun had passed away, she could hardly keep her mind from wondering what had become of Jin.

"You look even more like my mother now than ever," he said, pulling away from her to fully take in her appearance.

"So I've been told," she looked towards the ground. Then added, "What was she like? I can hardly remember her; it was so long since I last saw her."

He looked up towards the sky as his eyes became glassy. It was like he was no longer speaking to her, but speaking to the heavens.

Finally, he responded, looking into his cousin's deep brown eyes, "She was amazing, Asuka. She was completely amazing."

The tournament was already in its beginning stages when she'd arrived. Two days were allotted to the fighters for extra training and preparation. Then the preliminary rounds would begin.

There were somewhere near seventy fighters and thirty would need to be eliminated before the tournament could begin. In the preliminary rounds, qualification would largely be determined by the number points that you earned by fighting each person in your 'round'.

A round was comprised of five different fighters, each one would spar every other member of the round. Five points would be awarded for each victory, three for each tie, and no points would be awarded for a loss. Once everyone in the round had fought each other, the two lowest scores would be eliminated.

On the night of the conclusion of the preliminaries, there would be a celebration for the remaining forty-two participants. After that there would be one match for each fighter each week for the duration of the tournament. Should you be unfortunate enough to lose, you would be on the first flight back home.

For the first two days of preparation, Asuka began to develop a strong friendship with her cousin and his fiancée, Ling Xiaoyu. Both girls should have still been in high school. But both girls were going to have to meet the stringent demands of the tournament and studies were put aside. Besides, as Jin told them so often, they were both Kazama women and, should they choose, they would never have to return to school at all.

Asuka didn't mind and, as far as she could tell, Xiaoyu didn't mind either. Each night they would spar together. And Jin would watch, entranced by the graceful movement of each woman.

Xiaoyu and Asuka each occupied their own room, though both rooms were connected by a balcony. The night before her first preliminary match, Asuka sat with her new friend Xiaoyu, comparing their childhood homes.

"There is a path that led from the temple into the forest where I live. I used to go down that path all of the time after training and slip into the hot springs," Xiaoyu laughed, looking up at the stars. "My uncle would sometimes get so furious with me, always leaving and not telling him. It was kind of my quiet spot; no one would ever disturb me there. It made me think of my mother; like, maybe it was her special spot, too."

Asuka followed her gaze, pausing before she spoke. "In Osaka I have a place next to the shore. There is a ledge, just big enough for two to sit and look out at the sea with the city just above my head. That's my special place; I always went there when I felt alone. My mother loved the ocean; I think that place makes me feel closer to her."

Xiaoyu was silent, noticing the sad look in Asuka's eyes. She placed her hand on Asuka's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze before turning to go back to her room. As she pulled open the sliding door, Xiaoyu turned around to face Asuka, who was still sitting in her chair.

"I think, sometimes, there are things that need to be said. They make us feel better; just to have someone listen, especially when it turns out that they can relate to you," she paused. "Thank you, Asuka. I'll see you in the morning."

But Xiaoyu was in her room before she noticed the tears in her friend's eyes. Asuka knew what she said was true, no matter what your struggles, no matter what your triumphs, and no matter how you suffer them, in the end it all just bleeds together.

The next morning dawned cold and dark in the Mishima Mansion. Asuka was up early; she hadn't really slept well that night. She was on the balcony again, letting the cold breeze blow over her body.

It would be a lie to say that she wasn't scared. But Asuka knew, deep down, that she was ready for this challenge. And it wasn't the fights she was afraid of, but the opening of this new chapter in her life.

Back inside her room, she pulled on a pair of black spandex Capri pants with lace sewn around the bottom cuffs; Asuka looked at herself in the mirror. The way the spandex clung to the curves in her legs made her blush at her reflection. She was ashamed to admit how good she looked.

Quickly, Asuka turned away from the mirror and threw an old jean skirt over the spandex and pulled on a light blue shirt that fell off of her shoulders slightly. Turning off the light in her room, she slipped on a pair of black flip flops and walked out the door. A walk would clear her mind.

With her hands in her pockets and her eyes on the ground, Asuka walked to the beach. She wanted to hear the crashing of waves against the shore. She wanted to hear the sea gulls and feel the sand beneath her feet.

It was misting slightly, just enough to make her shiver whenever the breeze would blow against her exposed skin. But she wanted the feeling of those chills. She wanted to feel something so real as this.

Stopping near a rock that jutted up from the sand near the shore's edge, Asuka climbed on top of it. She stood, facing out to sea with the wind blowing her hair away from her face and the soft spray of saltwater hitting her face.

Asuka slid off her flip flops and tossed them onto the sand below. She held out her arms and let the wind whip around her.

"Asuka-san desu!" she yelled to the sea. "Kochira wa katei desu!"

"Asuka, huh?" the voice came from behind her. It was deep, definitely male.

She turned slowly, trying not to look upset at having been interrupted from her solitude. On the ground, next to her shoes, was a red-haired young man. His shaggy bangs were held back away from his head by a pair of goggles. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and ripped apart blue jeans.

Even through his baggy clothes, Asuka could tell that he was muscular; definitely a fighter from the tournament. The way he walked could have told her as much, also.

As she stood looking down at him he was looking up at her. The breeze blowing hair across her face and mist into her back. She didn't know how much time had passed before he spoke again.

"You'll hurt yourself up there," he offered her his hand. "Come down."

Asuka didn't answer, didn't move, didn't accept his hand. Instead, she turned back to face the sea, looking out across the choppy waves and sighed.

"Didn't you hear me?" his voice was much closer now. His hand took her wrist and began to lead her off of the rock, back to the ground. "It's dangerous up here, you could get hurt."

"Leave me alone, stranger," her voice was cold and she tugged her wrist away from him abruptly, causing him to nearly lose his balance.

Regaining himself he smirked at her. "Easy there, killer. No need to push me off. I was only trying to help."

"Make yourself very helpful and leave me be."

"And leave such a beautiful lady here by herself?" he smiled at her, doing his best to look sincere; but Asuka could see through his act. "Why, I fear I'd be a criminal to just leave you here like this."

"And I fear you'll be even more a criminal should you try and take me anywhere," she said stoically, still gazing out to sea.

"Touché," he paused, stepping in front of her so their eyes met. "What can I do to make this a better situation for you?"

His caramel brown eyes stared into hers. She froze, hardly able to breathe as she searched for the right words to say. Without losing her cool she whispered, "Your name, for starters."

"Hwoarang," he smiled, taking her hand in his and bringing it to his lips. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."

She returned to the Mishima Mansion later that morning; in time for an hour for breakfast before she left for her first preliminary match. Tying her hair back in a messy pony tail, Asuka grabbed her tournament bag and headed for Xiaoyu's door.

She knocked softly, hoping that her friend would already be awake. She wanted so badly to tell her about the strange man she'd met that morning while walking on the beach. Asuka knew that she had to tell someone in order to get her mind off of him.

"Xiao?" she questioned, knocking harder this time.

A muffled grunt was all Asuka could hear coming from the other side of the door. Fearing something was the matter, she opened the door and stuck her head inside.

Underneath the covers of Xiaoyu's queen sized bed, Asuka could see a tangled mass of brown hair. She entered the room slowly, curious to find out how to wake up her sleeping friend.

Deciding it best to rip the covers from her quickly, Asuka walked to the end of the bed. She firmly gripped the comforter and pulled as hard as she could, yelling, "Wakey wakey, Xiao!"

Xiaoyu let out a yelp and curled up into a small ball in the middle of her bed, shivering. She squinted her eyes open, trying to make out the figure of the person so cruel as to remove her covers in the middle of her sleep.

"Asuka?" she questioned. "What? What time is it?"

"Well, you know," she began. "About fifteen minutes until we're supposed to be at our rings for the start of the preliminary matches."

"WHAT?" Xiaoyu shouted, sitting up in bed and racing to change as quickly as she could.

Once she was fully dressed and ready to go, she nearly pulled Asuka by the collar of her shirt out the door. Both girls were dressed to fight. Both girls, though small, knew that they stood a very great chance of being the most powerful fighters in their preliminary rounds.

"Hurry!" Xiaoyu coaxed the younger girl with her. "We can't be late!"

"Hmm?" Asuka murmured. "Oh, yeah! About us running late. It turns out I just had to use that as an excuse to get you ready faster."


But her anger quickly subsided as they both began to laugh at what had happened. They made their way down to the kitchen for breakfast before the fighting would begin.

"So, what was it that you wanted to tell me?" Xiaoyu asked. "You mentioned it earlier, on the stairs."

"Oh, yeah!" Asuka said, swallowing a bite of rice and washing it down with some tea. "I met someone this morning. It was when I was taking a walk along the beach. I was standing there and he was behind me."

"HE?" she squealed. "Oh! Jin won't be happy about this one bit! You are his little cousin, after all! And since he doesn't have a little sister of his own it's his JOB to protect you from things like this."

Asuka just laughed, taking her time while finishing the last bit of her rice. Taking a sip of her tea once more, she added, "Jin's not like that. Besides, this guy seemed really nice."

"What was his name? Tell me his name! Surely you asked for his name?" Xiaoyu exclaimed excitedly.

"Hmm," Asuka put her hand to her chin and appeared to be gazing off towards the ceiling. "I-I don't think I remember-"


"Fine, fine," she smiled. "His name is Hwoarang."

The color drained from Xiaoyu's face and she frowned at the younger girl beside her. She put her hand on top of Asuka's and sighed.

"Oh no," she whispered. "Really?"

She'd trailed off and her eyes didn't meet Asuka's anymore. Not after she'd seen the look in Asuka's eyes that told her she was telling the truth. She'd stopped talking, seemed to have stopped breathing.

"Xiao?" Asuka's voice sounded worried. Maybe she was.

"Hwoarang," she said his voice so softly, almost like it was forbidden; taboo. "He used to be a friend of mine. Before Jin and I, you know, got engaged."

"What happened?" Asuka could sense the pain in Xiaoyu's voice, though she couldn't quite understand it.

"They're rivals, Asuka," she whispered. "Very bitter rivals. I'm afraid that Jin wouldn't approve; but I'm even more afraid that Hwoarang would have nothing to do with out once he learned about your relation to Jin."

"Rivals?" Asuka questioned. "Why? Xiao, tell me what happened."

"About four years ago your cousin met Hwoarang in the streets of Seoul. He's the leader of a street gang; they rig their fights and bet to win money. He and Jin," she paused. "It was a very long and hard fight, as I've heard. I wasn't there, myself. But as it goes, Hwoarang had never been defeated."

"So, Jin beat Hwoarang and he's still bitter about the loss?" she questioned.

"No, he didn't lose," she whispered.

Asuka looked down into her now empty bowl of rice, turning it around in circles in her hands. And spoke, "Then, Jin lost?"

"It was a tie; something neither one has ever really gotten over," she paused, looking into the soft eyes of her friend. "Jin's not as bitter as he once was. But Hwoarang has sworn to a rematch since that day. And, as I understand it, he's still every bit as bitter towards Jin as he was four years ago."

"So, it's Hwoarang's fault," it was more of a statement than a question.

"It's no one's fault," a deep voice came from the doorway. Both girls turned to see the strong figure of Jin Kazama clad in a black sweat suit. "But I forbid you to go anywhere near him, Suka. He'll do nothing but cause you trouble."

Jin's words were stern: final.

Her chat with Jin and Xiaoyu had only served to confirm what she had already assumed. Hwoarang really was a fighter in the tournament. Not just any fighter, she had found out, but a very good one at that.

Each year he entered the tournament brought him one step closer to the final match; the ultimate prize. But for some reason, it seemed to her; at least, Hwoarang wouldn't have been happy even if he did win the tournament.

She participated in her rounds that day; taking careful measure to check each time she had the chance on how Hwoarang's rounds had gone. Though she hadn't actually seen him yet, Asuka couldn't help but fantasize that he might be watching her at any moment, surprised and amazed by her power and grace.

She had known instantly that he was a fighter but she'd never told him that much about herself. For all he knew, she just might have needed his protection all alone on the empty beaches outside of Tokyo. Perhaps that is why he offered it.

Or maybe there was another reason. She'd felt something in him; something that contradicted her brother's warnings. There was something good inside of him. It drew her thoughts back to him each time she let her mind wander.

The rounds of that day had already come to an end and Asuka had found some time to herself. Jin and Xiaoyu had gone into the city, shopping for clothes to wear to the large celebration for the fighters that would advance in the tournament. Asuka knew that she, too, would need a dress; the fighters in her round were not, necessarily, up to par.

But that could wait. She needed some time to think. Unfortunately, no matter how hard she tried not to, all she could do was think of him.

Perhaps it was her cousin's command to distance herself from this mysterious man that drew her to him. Or perhaps it was the thrill she found in thinking that she might attract the attention of a man such as him.

Either way, she found her way back to the only place where it seemed fair to think thoughts of him. Up on top of her rock she sat, facing the sea. The salty air blew her hair away from her face; the smell of the salt water lifted her spirits and relieved all of her self-doubt.

The sound of the waves, as they hit against the rock she sat upon, calmed her. She smiled; listening to the seagulls and watching the sun sink beneath the horizon. It made the water sparkle in thousands of different colors; each one so much more beautiful than the last.

"I thought I might find you here."

It was his voice. She could feel her heart nearly leap. So excited to see him, yet knowing so well that she was wrong for thinking of staying here with him.

Asuka chose not to respond. She didn't even look at him. It would make her stronger; build her confidence, not to see his gorgeous red hair sweeping across his forehead and into his caramel eyes.

Thinking he had given up hope of a conversation and left, Asuka turned to look back towards the Mishima Mansion. It was a depressing sight; far in the distance, so dark against the beautiful forest that surrounded it.

"Hey," he whispered, sitting next to her. "Remember me?"

She was silent, turning to look into his eyes, before answering, "How is it that I could forget someone so arrogant as you?"

"Damn," he nearly rolled backwards off of the rock. "Do ya have to give me such a hard time? I was just trying to make conversation earlier."

"Was that your attempt at an apology?"

He smirked at her, admiring the words she chose. No one spoke to him like that; not ever. She obviously didn't know who he was, what he was. This could be his chance for a new start. His smirk became a kind smile as he spoke, "If you want it to be, Asuka."

'Asuka,' she thought, remembering the way he said her name. It sounded so good, rolling off of his tongue in that strange accent.

"Tell me about yourself," it wasn't a command, but a request.

"Maybe it would help if you start by telling me more about you," she was firm and he knew that he had no other choice.

"Ok, what do you want to know," he made himself more comfortable, moving closer to her.

"What should I know about you, Hwoarang?" she put emphasis on his name.

"I'm from Seoul, South Korea," he started, looking down at her. "And I own my own dojo where I teach tae kwon do."

He didn't continue and Asuka knew that he was waiting for her to tell him something about herself. She smiled, "I'm from Osaka, Japan; fishing town, you know, a little ways west of here."

"Never been," he folded his arms behind his head and looked up at the sky where stars were beginning to show. "But I heard it's nice."

She was sitting in silence, still facing towards the ocean. Asuka was playing with the lace at the end of her Capri pants.

"Ya know, for a girl, you sure don't talk much," he lifted his head a bit to look at her. "It's ok, though. You're still nice to look at."

"It's getting late," she whispered, pulling her knees into her chest. "I should probably be getting back home."

"Where you stayin'? I'll walk you," he offered.

"That's alright," she smiled. Then added with a wink, "I'm a big girl, you know? The kind that can tie her own shoes even."

He laughed, watching her slide off of the rock and onto the sandy beach below. She was far out of his sight before he moved to leave the rock. He thought he could still smell her there next to him; feel her warmth. But all too soon it was swept away from him in the sea's breeze.

It was late when she got home; too late. The house was dark, not that it wasn't normally dark. Everything was quiet and Asuka clenched her teeth as she heard the soft padding of her feet echo around the large entry way.

They wouldn't be upset with her for being out so late, but she still felt as though she had something to hide. She felt ashamed for dishonoring Jin's request that she distance herself from Hwoarang.

'He'll do nothing but cause you trouble,' Jin's words rang through her mind.

Asuka found her way upstairs to her bedroom as quietly and as quickly as she could. There was something so empty and lonely about the elaborate house that seemed to bear down on her. It was a suffocating feeling; like she needed to escape, to find her way outside of the walls of this house.

Knowing better, however, she entered her room and lay down on the bed. Closing her eyes to the tears that threatened to fall because of the emptiness, she sighed and dressed herself in sleeping clothes.

Tomorrow would be a big fight for her. It was the final match of her round; the match that would determine the three fighters that advanced to the Iron Fist Tournament. She had to concentrate; she had to focus.

The next morning her match started early. She was ready but her opponent was not. Asuka won easily in the first round, knocking out her opponent in just under a minute.

By Xiaoyu's advice, Asuka spent the rest of that day downtown in Tokyo, shopping for a dress to wear to the celebration that would take place that night. It wasn't the most exciting thing that she'd ever had to do, but it certainly wasn't the worst. It was calming, walking through the massive throngs of people, each on their way to a different location.

She found the dress quickly; shoes, handbag, and jewelry all followed. The dress was red, very plain; clinging to her curves in the right places. It was a pretty dress, not by nature but made beautiful by the wearer.

Asuka had wanted to spend more time away from her 'home' that day, but knew it was getting to be late. She was about to call Jin to send a limousine to pick her up but was stopped by a familiar voice.

"Going somewhere?" he ran his hand through his hair and smiled at her.

"Hwoarang?" she questioned. "What are you doing here?"

"If it wasn't for that bag in your hand, I might ask the same of you."

Asuka laughed, trying her best to keep the bag out of sight. It wasn't that she was ashamed of having been shopping, but the Dolce & Gabbana dress she'd bought that day seemed a little extravagant. She then asked, "Since you already know why I've been here, mind answering my question now?"

"Well, you know," he winked with a smile. "I'm so big on designer labels that I couldn't resist a little stroll through Tokyo's 'fashion district'."

She laughed, letting the bag fall freely at her side. "So, now you know my dirty little secret. I'm a sucker for expensive clothes."

It was a lie, but it seemed to be what he wanted to hear. And she didn't mind telling it to him.

"Going home?" he changed the subject.

"Well," she paused, adding sarcastically, "I was thinking about it."

"Need a ride?" he'd lost his cocky attitude and seemed genuine about his offer. He held a hand out to her.

She accepted it and climbed onto the back of his motorcycle without saying anything; without even thinking, really. Deciding to finally break the silence she whispered softly, "I've always wanted a ride on one of these."

"I'll make sure you get better than a ride, babe," his voice was rough now. And before Asuka could comment, they were off.

She'd asked to be let off near the beach; knowing very well what his reaction might be to dropping her off in front of the Mishima Mansion. He protested at first, insisting on dropping her off no further than a few steps from her front porch. But, in the end, Asuka won.

"Thanks so much for the ride," she smiled. "It was great."

He sneered a little, staring at her as if to test whether she was telling the truth or not. "I didn't think girls liked motorcycles."

"And I didn't think boys worried about how much a girl liked their 'ride'," she gazed up at him, knowing he was caught in her eyes. She turned to begin to walk away from him; slowly, turning only once to wave in his direction.

"Say," he scratched the back of his head, looking a little nervous as he stopped her with his words. "There's this party I'm going to tonight. You wouldn't wanna come with me, would you?"

'Yes!' her mind screamed. But she knew that he'd be at the same party as her, eventually, anyway. Asuka knew very well how much it would upset Jin for him to see her attending a party with Hwoarang.

She let her eyes fall to the ground, trying hard to look just disappointed enough to leave him still thinking of her. And then she whispered, "Oh, I'm sorry. Not tonight. I have a party to attend myself this evening."

It wasn't a lie. And it would be enough to fool him; for now.

He watched her go, walking along the beach until she finally disappeared into the shadows. She was proud of herself, never looking back or faltering as she walked. Asuka had stopped one time, when she heard the roar of his motorcycle engine and the screeching of his tires as he pulled away.

She felt so warm inside. Sure, Hwoarang wasn't the first friend she had made since arriving in Tokyo but he was the person she most enjoyed spending time with. He wasn't really anything like Jin and Xiaoyu had made him sound.

Hwoarang was kind and he seemed genuine enough. Perhaps it was still the shock of having only managed a tie in their match four years earlier that clouded Jin's vision of the young Korean.

And she decided to run back to the Mishima Mansion. She had a lot of time that she needed to make up for. Xiaoyu and Jin would be worried about her.

"Suka!" Jin exclaimed, running to her and pulling her into a warm embrace. "We were so worried about you. Are you alright? Why didn't you call?"

"Oh Jin, don't be so silly," she smiled, pulling away from him a little. "I'm just fine. I got a ride home from a nice gentleman."

It wasn't really a lie that she'd told Jin. Not exactly a real lie, anyway. Maybe just a little stretch of the truth; one that certainly couldn't hurt anybody.

"Asuka!" he seemed a little upset, now. "You can't just accept rides from perfect strangers! Tokyo's a little more dangerous than Osaka."

But Asuka just laughed. "Lighten up, Jin! I'm a big girl now. I can take care of myself. You shouldn't worry so much."

Before she let him say any more about her afternoon disappearance, she began to walk up the stairs to her room. She was still carrying the bag with her dress, shoes, and accessories inside. It would be a lie to say that she wasn't dying to get ready; it was important that she look nice tonight.

She settled into her bathroom, laying her dress out on the bed. Asuka listened to the sound the warm water made as it hit against the tile floor of the tub. She washed quickly, not staying in the warm water long enough for her skin to wrinkle yet still making time to wash completely.

Her hair was dried in minutes by the hairdryer in her bedroom and it was then curled with hot rollers borrowed from Xiaoyu. Asuka took special care to apply not only mascara but also eye shadow, blush, and powder to her face before sliding into her dress and heels.

She looked at her reflection in the mirror, knowing that the party had already started downstairs. It wouldn't hurt for her to take a few extra moments to herself right now, making sure she looked perfect.

Asuka heard a knock on her door and the quiet voice of Xiaoyu on the outside, "Hurry up Asuka! There's someone I want you to meet!"

"Coming Xiao," she looked at herself one last time before turning off the curlers and heading for the door.

She opened it slowly, stepping outside and looking at neither Xiaoyu or her guest. Instead, she closed the door behind her softly, trying not to let the gentle 'click' echo through the hallway.

When she finally turned around, she was looking deeply into the most gorgeous blue eyes she had ever seen. Her breath stopped in her throat as she noticed his luxurious blonde locks of hair. Asuka was sure she blushed.

"Oh," she murmured, adverting her eyes. "I'm terribly sorry, I just-"

"It's alright," he smiled down at her.

"Asuka," Xiaoyu butted in. "This is Steve Fox."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Asuka," he smiled down to her.

"You as well," she smiled back, bowing her head slightly in respect.

"Why don't we all head down to the party?" Xiaoyu suggested.

"Great idea," Steve said, starting ahead of them down the hallway.

"Xiao!" Asuka barely breathed. "Where in God's name did you find him?"

"He's gorgeous, isn't he?" she giggled softly.

"Well, y-yes, but-"

"But nothing!" she smiled. "You'll have a great time tonight."

The party was held in the ballroom of the mansion. It was a room Asuka had found herself in many times, admiring the elegant marble floors and walls covered in expensive silks. The room now seemed even larger than it had before with all of the people crowded into it.

Steve stopped once he entered the room and turned, once again, to face Asuka and Xiaoyu. Asuka was the only one there, however; Xiaoyu had gone to find Jin. He smiled at her; it was a nice smile, genuine and sincere.

"What would you say to a drink?" he questioned.

Asuka said nothing, nodding her head to show her approval. Without another word he was gone; sent to retrieve drinks. She absentmindedly scanned the crowd. She wanted to find Hwoarang but she knew that it wouldn't be good to be seen with him in front of Jin.

So she set to work trying to locate Jin and Xiaoyu. If they weren't here it would be possible for her to meet up with Hwoarang. Immediately, however, she thought of Steve and how rude it would be to just leave him searching for her with two drinks in his hands.

She sighed, taking a seat near the edge of the room and continuing to scan the slightly crowded room. The only thing she did manage to find was a very confused looking Steve looking every which way for her. She stood up and greeted him with a smile.

"Sorry," she whispered. "I didn't mean to confuse you. I just needed to sit down for a little while."

"Why are you apologizing? I'd have found you sooner or later," he handed her a drink and they both sat down together. "Besides, someone as pretty as you are can't get lost in a crowd for very long."

Asuka knew she was blushing, but she smiled and thanked him anyway. At the table with them was a very kind looking woman with brown hair and a blue dress. She had her eyes on Steve, Asuka could tell.

Deciding that this might be her only chance to begin searching for Hwoarang, Asuka introduced herself. "Hello, I'm Asuka. What's your name?"

"Julia," she answered kindly. Her voice was just as beautiful as she was. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

"This is Steve," Asuka held her hands out to him, as though showing him off. "Have you already met?"

"No," he smiled at her. "I don't think we've had the pleasure."

His eyes were shining and hers wouldn't leave his. It was a good sign, she knew this very well. Standing up slowly, she excused herself and began to walk towards the balcony outside with her drink still in hand.

She needed some time to clear her mind before she began searching for Hwoarang. She took a small sip of the drink in her hand, testing what it was. Though she wasn't sure exactly what it was, she knew there was alcohol in it.

'I'd better be careful,' she smiled inwardly. 'I can't think Jin or Xiaoyu would like to hear their friend Steve got me smashed at the first party we've been to.'

Although she couldn't see the ocean, she could hear it very well. The occasional crash of the waves against the shore and the smell of the salty air made her feel at home once again.

"Who would have thought that I'd find you here?"

Asuka laughed softly before answering, "I had no idea I'd be seeing you again tonight. Though I can't say I'm unhappy about it."

Hwoarang stood next to her, leaning against the balcony railing and letting the breeze blow through his own hair. He looked her over, noticing how lovely her dress looked on her. And he smiled.

They talked that night for hours on the balcony of the Mishima Mansion. It was the first time that this place had felt like home to her. And it was Hwoarang, she knew, that made her feel that way.

The two talked about everything. Asuka finally confessed that she was a fighter in the tournament. Hwoarang finally admitted to being the leader of a street gang. They talked about their hopes for their futures, Asuka wanting to attend college and maybe get a job at the Mishima Conglomerate and Hwoarang hoping to head back to Seoul and reestablish his struggling dojo.

"Someday I hope I'll have a family," he whispered softly. "But I'm not ready for one now; I don't want to settle down until I have to."

Asuka laughed, knowing very well that he'd meant exactly what he'd said. "I think I feel the same way."

"You think?" he eyed her suspiciously. "You either do or you don't. There can't really be an in-between this time, I don't think."

She laughed again, this time at his sarcasm. "I guess what I really mean is that I do agree with you. I want a family someday. But I've kind of already got one; just recently, you see."

"You mean you have a kid?" he kept his voice calm but she could tell he was a little bit taken aback by the idea.

"No, no, silly!" she tried not to laugh. "I just came here from Osaka to live with my family. I hadn't really known them much before this but it was the only place for me to go after my father died."

"I see," he smiled now, relaxing. "I didn't know my family either; I've been an orphan since my own father died when I was fifteen. That was almost five years ago now, though."

"I'm sorry to hear that," she placed a hand on his forearm to comfort him. "But it's nice to have someone that can finally relate to me."

"Yeah, I guess so," his eyes had fallen to the ground and Asuka could tell that this conversation was heading downhill quickly.

Asuka had no idea what to say right now, though. The only thing she could think to say was silly, she knew. It would probably make him laugh at her, but she had to give it a try.

"Whenever I think about my mother, or even my father, really," she began. "I always go to the ocean. It makes me feel better; it's my special place."

He looked at her; a look in his eyes that she hadn't seen there or even imagined could be there. It was compassion.

"I go to the docks of the river and sit on the edge, watching the boats sail by," he whispered. "Sometimes I watch from the top of a building, sometimes from the dock. That part doesn't matter as much as just seeing those boats and knowing that the world is still moving and, if I don't keep moving too, it will all pass by me."

They stood in silence for a long time. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence, as most would have been. But it was an inviting one; each person enjoying the other's company and the peace it brought with it.

Finally, he spoke again, "So, where is it, exactly, that you've been staying?"

She eyed him cautiously for a moment. Sighing, she asked, "Are you sure that you want to know? I fear that you won't like the answer much."

"Of course I want to know," he answered. "Even if I don't like the answer."

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Then she began, "I'm staying here, at the Mishima Mansion."

"Like Xiaoyu?" he questioned.

"Sort of," she trailed off. Asuka knew a lot about the arrangement that Heihachi had made to bring a young Xiaoyu to Japan for the King of Iron Fist Tournament 3. She was to live in the mansion, attend the Mishima high school, and train in the Mishima facilities. She'd fallen in love with Jin, however, and had remained on the grounds ever since then.

"Sort of?"

"Well, you see," she paused, clearing her throat. "Jin Kazama, he's-"

"Asuka!" a voice called from the entrance to the ballroom. "I've been looking all over for you."

It was Xiaoyu and, without even looking in their direction, Asuka knew that Jin was not far behind. Finally facing them both, she wasn't surprised to see a look of hatred between the two men.

"Asuka!" Jin nearly shouted. "How could you disobey me, betray me like this? I'm your cousin! We're family!"

"Jin, I-"

"Jin nothing!" he walked up to her and grabbed her wrist, puling her quickly away from the shocked red head. "We're leaving."

"Hey Kazama!" Hwoarang was moving towards them quickly now. But Xiaoyu was in his way, blocking him from reaching Asuka.

"I'm sorry Hwoarang," she whispered, letting her eyes fall to the floor. "But, this is how it has to be."

Author's Note: This is just a little prequel to my story Masterpiece written by special request for erikaTEKKENfan. I'd like to thank her, and all of the other readers, for their reviews and continuing support. I hope you enjoy this, ne?

For starters, I apologize for however wrong I might be in Asuka's roots and upbringing. I decided against following the storyline that I, myself, find quite intriguing. I've always thought it most romantic to assume Asuka the daughter of Jun and Kazuya. For the purpose of this story, however, it is best for me to think of Asuka and Jin as cousins rather than siblings. I couldn't really see Hwoarang liking Asuka as the 'sister of Jin' so much as he might as the 'cousin of Kazama'.

Not to mention the fact that I'd already written the end. It kind of blocked a lot of my creative processing. Oi! Mental note to self: never write the ending of a story before the beginning!

Another thing, I realize that I didn't stick quite 'to the story' as far as Jin living in the Mishima Mansion, but hey –- I had to get a little creative to make this story work! Please no flames for that.

Unfortunately, I took a lot of artistic liberty with this story and I hope you won't find it offensive. The party, for example. I suppose there really wouldn't have been a formal celebration of the commencement of the tournament, but how else could Asuka found her way to the 'fashion district' of Tokyo? Not that that portion of the story was vital, or anything.

Finally, I apologize for how long I let this story get. Also, I want to apologize for having to write another 'story' that will have to take place before 'Masterpiece'. Ugh! This one, however, I hope you'll find most satisfactory! This one will focus more on the budding relationship of Hwoarang and Asuka!

Please review and I'll send you lots of cookies, or candy, depending on what you like more. Next chapter soon! Adios, all!